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The incredible shrinking law firm

The incredible shrinking law firm

Top-tier firms are deleveraging, which spells bad news for unemployed graduates, underperforming partners and senior associates vying for partner, a professional services consultant has claimed.

Ted Dwyer (pictured), principal of Dwyer Consulting, told Lawyers Weekly that top-tier firms are shrinking. The result, he claimed, is fewer opportunities for graduates and limited partnership prospects for senior lawyers.

Firms are also becoming more ruthless about jettisoning underperforming partners, he added.

“The bottom line is major firms are getting smaller [and] they will keep high-performing partners, so they don’t go somewhere else, and only promote really exceptional senior lawyers to partnership.”

This structural change to top-tier firms may have unfortunate consequences for some, but there will also be rewards for talent, said Dwyer. Senior associates who miss out on a partnership role will be financially compensated, while two-to-four-year lawyers will be rewarded to “keep that talent in house”.

Interestingly, the trend is not a response to economic conditions, Dwyer claimed, and the expected post-election boost in corporate activity will not slow down deleveraging efforts.

Rather than make new hires to cope with the increased workflow, top-tier firms will expect their lawyers to work harder, he added.

“I remain bullish about a recovery in the market [but] this does not mean that there will be a recovery in the jobs market in the profession.”

Lawyers Weekly exclusively reported last month that the Melbourne offices of Allens, Baker & McKenzie, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Herbert Smith Freehills, King & Wood Mallesons, Lander & Rogers and Slater & Gordon hired less than half, and in some cases less than a quarter, of their clerks that were vying for a 2014 graduate position.

A national recruiter, who is receiving dozens of phone calls each week from graduates struggling to find a job, described it as “the worst time in living history to be a law graduate”.

Dwyer added: “There is no doubt the market is flooded with resumes at the moment.”

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